Bursts on KWA mainline on Pongala eve

The K. Jayakumar committee appointed by the State government to look into the simultaneous pipe-bursts on the 1200-mm pre-stressed concrete transmission mainline, carrying water from Aruvikkara to the city on February 25, submitted its report to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy here on Tuesday.

The report ruled out sabotage but came down heavily on a water supply system characterised by mismanagement of crucial functions and poor coordination.

The committee, which comprised Additional Director General of Police P. Chandrasekharan, Kerala Water Authority (KWA)’s Chief Technical Examiner Abraham Joseph; and KWA Chief Engineer (North) C. Supran apart from Mr. Jayakumar, ruled out the sabotage angle, stating that it was near impossible to break a pipe buried two to three feet beneath the ground in broad daylight. The reasons for the bursts, which occurred simultaneously at four points on the eve of the Attukal Pongala festival, were pointed out as pressure manipulation, indicating the unscientific management of the valves that controlled the flow of water; and secondly, the age of the pipeline which had quite a history of bursts and was vulnerable at several points.

Use of valves

The committee found that the maintenance and management of the crucial valves were ‘unsafe,’ ‘vulnerable,’ and ‘unsupervised.’

There was no responsibility fixed for who opened or closed the valves and there was no accountability either. The valves controlling the particular pipe were closed and opened several times on that day, the committee said, stating that it was the phenomenon called ‘water hammer’ or hydraulic shock, a pressure surge caused by sudden closure of a valve, that led to the bursts at vulnerable points on the pipeline. The management of the valves was being done by the running contractors, the committee pointed out, adding that this was being done in an ‘improper and unscientific’ manner.

The report goes on to lambast the running contractor system, with Mr. Jayakumar later telling The Hindu that running contractors had hijacked the entire water supply system of the city. This had even led to KWA Engineers abdicating their duties. The report, he said, had pointed out this and recommended replacement of this system with the appointment of an Assistant Engineer with a dedicated workforce to manage the valves.

The report also calls for installing a standard operating procedure for each pipe-burst and an operation manual to ensure coordination at the higher levels during festivals or occasions like the Pongala festival or Onam.

“We have indicted no one, but have discovered and pinpointed the failures in the system. The incident could have been avoided if there was proper coordination,” Mr. Jayakumar said.